We know that the goal of teaching future generations to code will make big strides within the next year. There are already some pretty ambitious ideas out there, like video games and adorable yet highly sophisticated robots. But Code Academyalum Linda Liukas has another idea that she hopes will help tickle the collective imaginations of our youngsters and get them to daydream about the world of computers…

She’s writing a book.

Liukas is the founder of Rail Girls, a non-profit that teaches computer programming to women in cities around the globe. Her proposed children’s book, Hello Ruby, made its debut on Kickstarter this morning and quickly smashed its $10,000 funding goal after just 3.5 hours. (As of this writing, the project sits at $39,000 with nearly 900 backers.

The story follows the adventures of–you guessed it–a girl named Ruby, a “small girl with a huge imagination.” Liukas says:

Ruby’s world is an extension of the way I’ve learned to see technology. It goes far beyond the bits and bytes inside the computer. This is the story of what happens between the ones and zeros, before the arrays and the if/else statements.

The goal with Hello Ruby–which comes with a companion activity book for programming exercises–is to make kids realize writing software is about more than numbers on a screen; it’s about “expression, creativity–and practical application,” Liukas adds.

“Our kids should learn to bend, join, break, and combine code in a way it wasn’t designed to,” she says. “Just as they would with crayons and paper or wood and tools. I believe there’s plenty to learn in programming logic and culture before showing children a single screen.”

You can learn more about the project here.

An Interview with a CS Teacher at an All-Girls School!

full article by Laura Egtz

How did you get into computers?

My dad brought home a ‘portable computer’ from work when I was five or six years old. First of all, understand that portable back then means something quite different than it does now: this was a 30 lb suitcase computer. I was fascinated by it, though I never got much of a chance to play with it. When I was seven, we were fortunate enough to buy our first family desktop computer, a Packard Bell 286 with a VGA card. It was awesome!

How did you get into teaching computer science? Did you start with computer science and then got into teaching, or did you start teaching and then get into computer science?

I majored in computer science engineering. After college, I worked for a software development company, but I just wasn’t passionate about our work. I taught a community education course for middle schoolers interested in making video games, and that’s when I realized that teaching was something that I could be passionate about. Computer science is something that I think is hugely important to understanding and shaping our society, so it gives me great satisfaction to be involved in teaching it!

Computer science can be a dry subject if taught the wrong way. What do you do to make it interesting and keep students engaged?

The most important thing is to frequently give students opportunities to create things. Many computer programming courses focus on solving problems that only involve math or strings. While those types of projects are valuable in terms of practicing algorithm development and gaining a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a computer, they aren’t great introductory material. I use tools such as Scratch and Python to give students a lot of freedom while exploring exciting new concepts.

In computer science class, we do a lot with Scratch. How do some of the basic concepts of Scratch help prepare us for more complex languages like Java for FRC?

Computer programming is ultimately about identifying the steps to solve a problem. Scratch has control structures such as loops and conditional statements (if/then/else), variables, and even the concept of objects with their own methods. In the computer science classes I teach, we first see how Python implements these concepts, and then transition to Java. This further emphasizes that it’s not about the specific words used in a language as much as the larger concepts, which apply to many languages/implementations.

Is Scratch just about programming or do the social aspects help students learn about open source and team development?

Scratch can be about both. I haven’t used the collaborative features of Scratch that much, but the fact that they are there means that students can explore them on their own. I love the remix functionality built in—the fact that anyone can view the code behind a published project is great from an educational standpoint.

Should educators teach concepts differently to inspire girls as opposed to inspiring boys or co-ed classrooms?

Yes. The way educators have been teaching computer science has resulted in the field being dominated by men. I think courses crafted specifically for girls have the potential to increase female participation later in life.

What do you see as the future for computer science education? What are the challenges? What can be done now to address these future challenges?

I think computer science will become a required course in middle and high schools. The concepts associated with it are applicable throughout life: breaking a problem down, identifying the optimal way to solve it. It will be challenging to figure out how that fits in with established curricula. It will also be difficult to convince parents and administrators that all students are capable of at least a surface level understanding of computer science concepts. Increasing student and parent exposure, through large scale events such as Hour of Code, will certainly go a long way toward easing these challenges.

What advice do you have to parents and educators to inspire youth to be more involved in open source and STEM?

Make sure they have the tools necessary to explore computer science. Give them the opportunity to build and create things with computers. And try coding yourself—it’s never too late to start learning!

James Allen is the Upper School Technology Department Chair and Director of the Center for Technology & Invention at Hathaway Brown School. He has been committed to increasing female participation in IT ever since his college days when he was a founding member of Girls in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (GEECS) at the University of Michigan. When he isn’t teaching, he enjoys playing bass and acoustic guitar, reading post-apocalyptic fiction, and collecting classic arcade games.

Making young programmers at Greenwich Academy

Making young programmers at Greenwich Academy
Paul Schott, Greenwich Time

“My hope is that everyone, children, parents and teachers will enjoy learning about Scratch,” Nakanishi said. “In this day and age where we are surrounded by so much technology, Scratch empowers the user to be a creator and not just a consumer of technology.”

While creating a Call of Duty-level blockbuster will likely require considerable training, making simple, but engaging interactive games is within the reach of beginning programmers. And it is a function of the Scratch computer programming language that student, parent and teacher participants will learn about Sunday at the inaugural Scratch Day at Greenwich Academy.

Developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch allows school-age users to create a variety of media such as games, interactive stories and animation pieces and share them with others in an online community. More than 4 million projects have been shared so far, according to the Lifelong Kindergarten website.

Scratch events are prevalent, with 187 held last year in 47 countries. Yumi Nakanishi, Greenwich Academy’s academic technology coordinator, was motivated to organize a Scratch event at her school after attending a Scratch Day the last two years at Marymount School in Manhattan with her daughter, now a fourth-grader at Greenwich Academy. She organized Sunday’s event with two other faculty members in Greenwich Academy’s Technology Department, Melissa Cassis and Lee Mayfield.

“My hope is that everyone, children, parents and teachers will enjoy learning about Scratch,” Nakanishi said. “In this day and age where we are surrounded by so much technology, Scratch empowers the user to be a creator and not just a consumer of technology.”

The Scratch Day syllabus will include a number of sessions for participants to learn more about programming from computer science experts, including two Scratch sessions led by Cassis and Mayfield. In other workshops, they will be able to work with robotics construction sets and invention kits geared toward youngsters. Sara Chipps, a JavaScript developer and co-founder of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit focused on helping more women become software developers, will deliver the keynote speech.

Participants are coming from various parts of Fairfield County and Westchester County, N.Y. and other places in the Tri-State area. Registration has closed.

Computer science is a part of science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] programming at the all-girls Greenwich Academy. Students in grades three through six learn Scratch, while seventh grade marks the transition to another programming language, Processing.

“What we feel strongly is that exposing kids to computer science and programming specifically is an increasingly important part of their education,” said Ann Decker, director of Greenwich Academy’s Duff Center for STEM Initiatives. “We want them to know how computer programming works.

“Just like science is a way of understanding and knowing, computer programming is a way of thinking. Problem-solving, collaborating — all of these activities that go into writing a computer program are really important skills. We’re focused on teaching them to our young kids and starting them early.”

Scratch also offers a safe, constructive way for students to use social media, said Jon Ross-Wiley, head of Greenwich Academy’s lower school.

“Scratch has done a nice job in allowing collaboration online, but it does so in a very appropriate and safe manner,” he said. “It’s a really great introduction for many of our girls to the power of social media. For some of the girls, this is perhaps their first interaction with social media, and it’s great that it’s in the academic arena.”

Geeking Out: Uganda’s Women are Creating the Next Generation of Girl Geeks

Young women are learning to program computers far from Silicon Valley, developing apps that will help their neighbors—and themselves.
reprinted from The Daily Beast

If not for a view of the ornate Uganda National Mosque or the sprawling, congested taxi park in the distance, it would be hard to tell that Outbox, a technology incubator and accelerator, is in a high-rise in Kampala (Uganda’s capital city) and not some non-descript office building in Silicon Valley.

The vibe is intense and laid-back all at once. Modern, cushy chairs and long conference tables are used by casually-dressed young people typing furiously on MacBooks in a quest to create the next big thing. Formidable, expansive blinds in cascading green, blue, red and yellow cover its floor-to-ceiling windows (evoking Google, an organization that partially funds the space through its Google for Entrepreneurs initiative).

At one of the long tables, a group watched quietly as Joldeen Mirembe, a tack-sharp 23-year old woman, presented her latest creation: a website. While everyone was notably relaxed, each had something to say, asking questions or merely pointing something out. A few offered constructive criticism, which Joldeen accepted with the zeal of someone hungry to learn.

A year ago, Joldeen didn’t know how to design a website or program an app. She had always wanted to learn how, but felt uncomfortable in the male-dominated computer science courses offered at her university. “Sometimes [when] you’re doing programs with boys, you find that girls are a little shy to come up if they don’t understand,” she explained to me after her presentation.

Fortunately, she heard of GirlGeekKampala, an organization teaching young Ugandan women the computer programming languages and content management frameworks that they may have missed out on in school. She immediately joined, and today is one of the most dedicated GirlGeeks, attending classes nearly every weekend.

GirlGeekKampala was founded in 2012 by Christine Ampaire, Richard Zulu, and Victor Miclovich, a trio of tech leaders in Uganda frustrated by the structural and cultural barriers holding women back from careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Ampaire, an enthusiastic, ever-optimistic entrepreneur and award-winning app developer, faced many of these barriers in her education. “There’s this vibe, this thing that happens where girls are pushed towards the arts and boys are pushed towards the sciences,” she told me before Joldeen’s presentation.

As she was quick to point out, the discouragement is often subtle and inadvertent; it can be as simple as feeling intimidated and out of place in a computer science lab dominated in quantity and personality by confident male peers.

Sometimes, though, she faced explicit gender discrimination; a teacher once told her that she shouldn’t apply to a certain technical school because, as she remembered it, “you’re a girl—you’ll never get in.” Thankfully, her father actively encouraged her interest in computers, and she kept learning, eventually majoring in software engineering at Makerere University in Kampala.

Unfortunately, Ampaire’s experiences aren’t unique; a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Gender, Science, and Technology echoed many of her concerns about the technological gender gap in Uganda. Though the study had a relatively small sample size, roughly two-thirds of women surveyed by the authors stated that “society discouraged them by claiming that computer science is a ‘hard’ and ‘difficult’ subject”—while only 10% of men said the same. It also highlighted the lack of scholarships and female mentors in STEM subjects as likely contributors to the technological gender gap.

This isn’t a problem confined to Uganda. Across the world, women are held back from science careers by unsupportive teachers and restrictive biases. GirlGeekKampala is just one of the many organizations supporting women in their pursuit of STEM careers; other well known groups from America include Girls Who Code, based in New York City, and Black Girls Code, in San Francisco.

Ampaire, an entrepreneur always on the lookout for a new problem to solve, saw a gap between what women wanted—a more welcoming environment where they could learn computer science—and what was available to them in the classroom. “I thought maybe if there were more girls around, I would get this courage to learn,” she said. “It could be a group thing in a group setting for girls, and it could just start from the basics—from the ground up, at our own pace, no need to rush us.”

GirlGeekKampala capably fills that gap. Every Saturday, women—and some men—meet at Outbox, which kindly lets the group use the space for free. For a few hours each session, members of Kampala’s tech community (often men) give up to their Saturday afternoons to facilitate wide-ranging conversations and hold mini-workshops with the group of women.

The sessions are hands-on, open, and collaborative by design. “Everyone is free to express themselves and learn new things,” Joldeen said, contrasting the average GirlGeekKampala session with girls’ experiences in computer labs at school. “The fact that you keep having girls that push you to believe that this is possible—and we have other mentors and supporters that want to see this be very successful—I think that makes it an amazing experience.”

“It’s amazing learning these things,” she added for emphasis.

Other events have proven popular with the GirlGeeks, too. In January of last year, Ampaire helped organize Rails Girls Kampala, a two-day workshop where attendees learned Ruby on Rails, a popular web framework. Seventy girls attended the event (many of them GirlGeeks), and almost two dozen carried over their enthusiasm to a weekly learning session on Friday afternoons, which finished this past summer.

GirlGeekKampala, Rails Girls Kampala, and other organizations are part of Kampala’s growing tech scene. Though less well-known than Nairobi’s bustling tech ecosystem, it’s quietly becoming a vibrant space for entrepreneurs to learn, collaborate, and create.

Ugandan developers are choosing to focus on products and services that help solve the types of problems their families and friends have daily, Ampaire thinks, often in more rural areas.

“The tech scene is growing, and the thing I love is that developers are passionate about building products that are locally relevant—built by Africans, for Africans, which is really cool,” Ampaire told me. “It’s more about ‘Think Local’—what problems do we have in our local scene, and how can we solve them?”

“To me, the coolest stuff is not the stuff that looks amazing; it’s the stuff that’s solving the smallest needs,” Ampaire said. As an example of this socially-conscious focus, Ampaire mentioned one of her first products, an award-winning app called MafutaGo. It crowd-sources petrol prices and was widely used during a recent petrol shortage in Kampala.

“Software is going to play a huge role in the development of Uganda and our continent as a whole, right?” she added, ticking off M-FARM (“I thought it was so cool because it was so relevant, you know?”) and M-PREP (now Eneza Education), both being deployed in Kenya, as examples of how simple applications can have an outsized effect.

It’s clear that GirlGeekKampala is having an effect on individual women, too. “It all started when I joined,” Joldeen told me. “For me, GirlGeekKampala was like the door—an opportunity for me to start on my own. And [now] I’m learning other languages, too.”

Currently, she’s working on an app related to Ugandan fashion, and hopes to own an IT firm in the future.

Nudging Girls Toward Computer Science

via @nytimes 10/26/13

My It’s the Economy column on Sunday looks at why traditional economic incentives alone don’t seem to be enough to encourage more women (or men, for that matter) to go into highly lucrative computer science jobs, which can often provide great flexibility to boot.

Part of the issue, it seems, is exposure. Most people don’t come into contact with computer scientists or engineers in their daily lives, and don’t really understand what they do. American schools don’t do a great job of teaching computer science skills either.

Trying to remedy this are numerous nonprofit and educational organizations, among them, which lobbies to get more computer science classes in schools. Others try to provide computer science lessons outside of a traditional school setting. Girls Who Code, for example, has eight-week boot camps that teach middle and high school girls programming skills – in languages like Java, PHP, and Python – as well as algorithms, Web design, robotics, and mobile app development.

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